Life is Strange 2 - Episode 5: Wolves

January 17, 2020
REVIEWS
PS4
Also on: PC, Xbox One

Oh, brother.

This review contains potential SPOILERS for the previous three episodes. The reviews for other episodes can be found here:

Episode 1 - Roads

Episode 2 - Rules

Episode 3 - Wastelands

Episode 4 - Faith

And so the story of the Diaz brothers draws to a close. Life Is Strange 2 took a distinctly different focus to its predecessor, providing a more passive role to the protagonist when it comes to the “strange” element of the game. In the original, Max’s time rewind ability was front and centre and offered a mechanic which changed the way players approached traditional point-and-click games. As Sean In the tale of the wolf brothers, however, you are mainly an observer trying your best (or not) to contain the ever-increasing power of your younger sibling Daniel. This fifth and final chapter is no different. It focuses heavily on story over gameplay, but does so intelligently and sympathetically, resulting in a satisfying finale.

Red.


If Faith felt a bit hokey with its cartoonish villain and clichéd cult, Wolves dials the crazy back significantly. In some ways, it almost overcompensates; the first thirty minutes sees Sean and Daniel chilling out in the middle of a desert retreat with their estranged mother, with nothing to do but talk to other outcasts and kick their heels around the sandy environment. The change of pace from the bombast and burning of the fourth episode means that the most exciting thing you’ll get to do is embark on a scavenger hunt set by Daniel. Even so, at this early stage there’s a lovely tie-in to the first game with the surprising reappearance of a character who you might have forgotten all about.

An all-too-common viewpoint, sadly.


Story-wise, Life Is Strange has always been better when it has a focused tale to tell. For the finale, Dontnod has thumbed its nose at keyboard warriors complaining that their earlier chapters (particularly the first) were politically charged, and it benefits the game no end. Whether it’s a gay couple forced into the desert by homophobia, a pregnant immigrant couple trying to get into America to make a life for their new family, or a militant pair of right-wing bigots blaming the brothers for everything that’s wrong with the country, the dialogue is handled carefully but pointedly. When the events of the past eventually force the brothers to move on from their safe haven to their ultimate destination of Mexico, I expected the border wall to make an appearance — what I didn’t realise was how much of an emotional impact it would have. Kudos to the developer for being unafraid to portray “othering” and its effects on society, and for doing so in such a matter-of-fact way.

Who doesn't love a lantern?


But at the heart of it all is the brothers’ love for each other. Sean and Daniel have grown tremendously since the first episode (Daniel in particular is far less bratty here), and while the option is there for you to teach Daniel to be a bad person rather than a good one, the relationship between the pair makes it far easier to choose the latter path. The game makes you care for Daniel as much as Sean does; veering away from that paternal instinct feels wholly unnatural. Even simple moments where you’re alone and choosing whether to go along with his flights of fancy or not feel weighty.

Ultimately, the final episode was always going to ramp up the action — letting the Diaz brothers get an easy ride to Mexico wouldn’t have made for an interesting game — and the latter half of Wolves certainly does that, although at a price. Because Daniel’s powers amount to a proxy action (namely, Sean asking him to do something, and only at certain times), there’s a certain detachment in the resulting melee on screen which isn’t quite as satisfying as taking control yourself. Yet this is all forgotten when you reach the end and trigger one of seven possible endings, each of which is determined both by the relationships you made in previous episodes, and — more importantly — your relationship with Daniel. There are four main endings and three slight alternative tweaks within, but every one of those primary story beats lands and makes sense in the context of this episode’s choices and what has come before. More importantly, even if you choose what would be considered a “bad” ending, there is still a hint of positivity to be found within each. It’s rare to find a branching game like this which manages to so perfectly encapsulate the choices you’ve made and provide wildly differing outcomes. Dontnod deserves a lot of credit for nailing this finale. Better still, Dontnod has released all the endings onto YouTube so if you don't want to play through the entire five episodes again, you can see how differently your decisions might have panned out.

"Tear down this wall!"


The game doesn’t hit home in every aspect though, as there are some jarring moments — and I don’t just mean frame rate jittering during bigger sequences. The scavenger hunt mentioned previously in the early part of the game didn’t actually kick in when it was supposed to, leaving me wandering around the encampment wondering what I was supposed to do. It was only an internet search that revealed this was a bug, and that a checkpoint restart was needed — something that really should have been picked up in testing. There’s also the question of length, which feels a lot shorter than previous episodes, despite taking a similar length of time to be released. Some of the narrative choices felt odd too: even in a commune filled with outcasts, a boy with telekinetic powers is unlikely to be given a free pass with no questions asked just because. 

It's a scrap metal art park. Who WOULDN'T want to live there?


Still, the most important thing for Wolves to do — which the newly reformed Telltale Games should take note of — was to stick the landing. The Diaz boys deserved nothing less than a sterling send-off, and I’m happy to say that they absolutely get one. As with Max and Chloe, it’ll be hard to leave Sean and Daniel behind; there’s a contemplative beauty to Life Is Strange which I’ve rarely encountered in games. That doing so little can still feel impactful is important (especially at the times there’s so little to do), but the atmosphere of the series as a whole — its gorgeous colours, folksy soundtrack and natural dialogue — is yet to be matched in a point-and-click.

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8
Wolves is a short, satisfying final chapter for a beloved series and one which will please all but the most hard-hearted gamers.
Rob Kershaw

I've been gaming since the days of the Amstrad. Huge RPG fan. Planescape: Torment tops my list, but if a game tells a good story, I'm interested. Absolutely not a fanboy of any specific console or PC - the proof is in the gaming pudding. Also, I like cake.